Archive for the ‘Festivals’ Category

“Wall paper hanging is like upholstering a room”

Thursday, June 26th, 2014
Heidi L. Johnson. Photo by Tom Adams

Heidi L. Johnson. Photo by Tom Adams

There are 6 weeks left until the Lowell Folk Festival. Between now and then, we are posting examples of folk crafts that will be demonstrated in Lucy Larcom Park. Our theme is paper traditions, and that includes the occupational craft  of paper hanging.

Heidi L. Johnson is pretty sure her passion for paperhanging started in her grandmother’s guestroom where the walls were papered with a faux bois of white and beige with lavender roses.   As a five year old, she’d stare at the walls. “I was figuring out pattern repeat. I knew a machine had printed that and I could tell that it had to be engineered around the room.”

The tools of the paperhangers’ trade may be simple (straight edge razor blades, levels, electronic lasers, bristle sweeps, and pasting machines), but their use requires great skill. In fact, wallpaper hanging is considered a higher trade in the building trades. It demands planning, engineering skills, visualizing patterns, knowing materials, prepping walls, and applying the product swiftly and accurately.  “It looks easier than it is,” Heidi says, adding that wallpaper hanging is like upholstering a room. “The sign of a good craftsman is to hide the skill.”

Rolling out a sample of wallpaperHeidi’s background in textile design and her experience in designing and manufacturing wallpaper, make her especially well-suited to papering interiors. She has been a member of the National Guild of Professional Paperhangers since 1994, an occupational group she describes as “the paper geeks of the industry.”

Heidi will be demonstrating her craft at the 2014 Lowell Folk Festival in the Folk Craft area along Lucy Larcom Park.

Samples from the Norwood-Day Collection

Children’s paper Lore at the Lowell Folk Festival craft area

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Playing with a fortune teller

Children have traditional ways of playing with each other: telling knock-knock jokes; playing store, tag, or make-believe; posing riddles; playing pranks; and creating playthings out of what is at hand. Some of the most commonly made folk toys are made of paper: fortune tellers (also known as cootie catchers), paper airplanes, spitballs shot through straws, and paper footballs scooted across the table just far enough to balance on the edge but not fall off.

But no one officially teaches this kind of thing in school. In fact, it’s what kids do when the teacher isn’t looking. Children have been learning this type of amusement from each other on school playgrounds for generations. What’s remarkable is that these pastimes show such continuity and stability of form through time. Yet, everyone seems to outgrow them.

Eleanor and Mary may be young teenagers, but they fondly remember the paper lore of their pre-adolescence. Fitting the Lowell Folk Festival craft area’s theme of paper, Eleanor and Mary are here to share their knowledge of making and playing with paper. Come watch them fold a fortune teller, candy wrapper chain, or tissue paper flower. Or try your hand at making one of your own. Share what paper lore games you remember playing as a child.

 

Pitch perfect color

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Marbled paper by Regina St. John. Photo by Maggie HoltzbergGenie and Dan St. John run Chena River Marblers in the Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, a region known for book arts. Working out of a home studio, they produce stunning marbled patterns on paper and silk.  The marbled paper is used by book binders and paper artists, the silk in the making of scarves and ties. 

The process of marbling is almost magical.  (fitting then, that Regina goes by the nickname “Genie”). A bath of water and a thickening agent, such as carrageenan (dried seaweed) is prepared, onto which droplets of paint are applied. Genie explains that it is the thickened liquid that allows the paint to float on the surface.

Regina St. John. Photo by New England Guild of Book Workers Dan holding sheet of marbled paper

“You put all these colors on your bath and you manipulate them. Comb them this way and that, and the colors don’t get mixed up. The pink stays pink, the white stays white, and you end up with these beautiful patterns right on the surface of your bath.” Next, the image is carefully transferred to an absorbent surface, such as paper or silk.

Genie works mostly using acrylic paints for her silk and paper marbling. Dan points out one of Genie’s enviable talents, saying, “Genie has got a perfect pitch for colors.” Complimenting this is Dan’s background as a physics and chemistry teacher which gives him a grounding in the chemical makeup of materials and processes. Teachers at heart, they suggest that by using the marbling process, a whole curriculum could be created to explore basic chemical properties, such as viscosity, density, acidity, and surface tension. “Just take the different properties of fiber. Take the chemistry of ligans, which make one organic thing stick to another. That’s why colors stick to a fabric. . .” Genie adds, “Once they’ve learned all of that, they can use their papers to make books and write it all down.”

books for sale made with marbled paper

Dan builds much of the equipment, including the many different styles of combs, which when pulled through the bath, create unique patterns.

Two combs made by Dan

Because no paint company manufactures colors specifically for marbling, Chena River Marblers create their own paints (grinding up pigments, adding binders, mulling them together), which allows them more control in how the paint will spread on the liquid surface. Dan favors the old style marbling; using watercolors, he creates what are called “tiger eyes.”  Below are some examples which look like images from the natural world.

Dan's tiger eyes seen in asymetric pattern

Tiger eye with coral background

Another technique is called edge marbling, which was more commonly used in the production of 18th and 19th century books. With marbled edges and end sheets, a book would end up looking like a piece of marble.

Dan holding a edge marbled book. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg Dan St. John edge marbling. Photo courtesy of New England Guild of Book Workers

Together, Genie and Dan St. John convey a passion for the marbling craft, a facility for teaching, and a dedication to passing on the tradition. It’s our good fortune that they will be demonstrating marbling at the 2014 Lowell Folk Festival, where the theme of the craft area will be paper traditions.

Old style marbling with lace effect by Dan St. John. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg

More tiger eyes by Dan. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg

 

Customized fruit carver comes to the Lowell Folk Festival

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Earlier this spring I was searching for someone who specializes in the tradition of carving fruits and vegetables to demonstrate at the folk craft area of the Lowell Folk Festival.  This year the theme is carving traditions. After following up on a few leads, all within the Asian community, I eventually gave up on trying to find someone to demonstrate this culinary skill.

Then, just six weeks shy of the festival, I received an email from Craig Gates of the Lowell Festival Foundation. He’d been contacted by Ruben Arroco inquiring whether he could demonstrate fruit carving at the festival this summer. Serendipity? As it turns out, Ruben recently demonstrated fruit carving at the Rock ‘N Ribfest in Merrimac, New Hampshire. When someone came up to him to ask if he would be at the Lowell Folk Festival this July, he thought to himself, “Why not?” Hence, his inquiry. Craig passed him on to me, with the thought that it was probably too late and that I could “let him down gently.” Instead, I was thrilled to learn of this local chef who had trained in the Philippines, has been an executive chef for 30 years, and now specializes in customized fruit and vegetable carvings.

So last week, Phil Lupsiewicz and I drove over to the Highlands neighborhood of Lowell to interview Ruben Arroco. Ruben, his wife, and daughter live in a newly built enclave of condominiums tucked into some lush foliage just off a busy street. Ruben welcomed us in, offering us freshly brewed coffee and slices of tiramisu cake. Presentation was done with the utmost care; the cake was served on white porcelain plates decorated with mango carved to look like roses. Amazed at the trouble he had gone to and delighted in sitting down to this unexpected afternoon treat, Phil and I readied our recording equipment.

Ruben placed a round watermelon on a rotating board, securing its base with a rolled dishtowel. Then he picked up a very sharp tool and began to work. “I just start by looking for a nice surface and just make a little peel. I peel that until I see a little red color. Like so. . .  I’m going to make the center petals of the flower. Most of the time they use a knife to make a circle – but I just use a cookie cutter to make a round shape. This is how it’s started. See, I love that color right there, it’s coming out, the red color. Then you start making the petals. . . ”

 

Ruben makes most of his own carving tools out of specialized stainless steel. I ask if fruit carving is a relatively rare skill to have. “It is. This is actually a 700-hundred year old art that originated in Thailand.”

Ruben learned to carve fruit during his training as a hotel chef in the Philippines. “There is a place in the Philippines — Paete, Laguna — where people there make a living out of carving wood. Some of those guys, I was lucky enough to work with in the hotel. . . If you see a chef doing this, most of the time, if you ask, ‘Are you from [Laguna]’ the answer is yes. If you can carve wood, you can carve this — so I kind of learned it from them.”

Ruben picks up a specialized tool he made which creates V-cuts in one movement. “Even just making simple V-cuts transforms it and gives it that nicer look. You go around making these V-cuts, like that. Separation of the petals from the part that you carved, that’s very important. The part that is removed, they call that the negative side in the carving world. If you don’t remove that, you won’t see what you just carved.”

I wonder aloud  if there is something hard about making art which is so ephemeral. It can take from seven to ten hours to create, yet it’s there to be consumed. Ruben says, “Even though it takes a long time to make, the best part of it is when we bring it to the party and everybody likes it. Even though it took me seven hours to make, it always feels like it only took me a half hour when everybody likes it.”

“Most of the time, we bring it to the party and then they call me back say, ‘We have a problem.’ ‘What? Why, what happened.?’  ‘Nobody wants to touch it!’  So I tell them to find a kid and tell him or her it’s for them. They won’t care; they’ll just start eating it.”

Come to the Lowell Folk Festival this July 27 and 28 to watch Ruben and 15 other traditional artists demonstrate their remarkable carving skills.

 

 

 

 

Fried dough, anyone?

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Bread may be the staff of life, but fried dough is its treat. Fried dough is often associated with summer fairs and carnivals, where it’s made in vats of hot oil. But this seemingly generic food has roots in many cultures. Varieties of fried dough made in local home kitchens are part of the foodways of cooks with African-American, Greek, Italian, Polish, and Portuguese roots.

Fried breads are made with yeast dough or flour, which is shaped and transformed by frying.  Frequently the small, often bite-sized confection is finished off by being rolled in toppings such as honey, sugar, cinnamon, or the sweeteners are sprinkled on top. There’s no such thing as leftovers where fried dough is served!

Come to Foodways Tent this July’s Lowell Folk Festival and you’ll have a chance to see and taste five different versions of fried dough.

COOKING DEMONSTRATIONS:

12:00 p.m.  Eleni Zoldi, Greek loukamathes

1:00 p.m.    Lucia DiDuca, pizza fritta

2:00 p.m.    Natalia Cardosa, Portuguese filhoses & malassadas

3:00 p.m.    Lilly Morales, African American hoe cakes and hush puppies

4:00 p.m.    Mary Matyka with Helen Dubuc, chrusciki

Carnival, Dominican style

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

For several years now, we’ve been trying to track down the Dominican carnival comparsa rumored to be based in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Having seen photos of these fantasic costumed masqueraders, we thought they would be a perfect fit for leading the parade opening the Lowell Folk Festival. Finally, success! We recently visited with Stelvyn Mirabal, founder of the Asociación Carnavalesca de Massachusetts, in his home in Lawrence.

In the Dominican Republic, Carnival is celebrated during the whole month of February, where groups of elaboratively costumed people parading through the streets.  Some of the most famous of all the masked participants are the Diablos Cojuelos (limping devils). As the story is told, a demon was once banished to Earth because of his clownish pranks and was injured in his fall, hence the limp.  Diablos cojuelos are multi-horned, sharp toothed beings. Many regions of the Dominican Republic have varying versions of this frightening devil.

The Asociación Carnavalesca de Massachusetts brings a bit of Dominican Carnival to the United States. Twelve years ago, Stelyn Mirabal saw the need to preserve Dominican folkloric traditions in Lawrence, where there was (and is) a sizable Dominican population. He formed a comparsa (meaning a group of costumed people who  participate in the carnival parade) to take part in Lawrence’s 2nd Dominican Parade. In 2006, he decided to go bigger and brought back 16 masks at the same time. Currently, there are 75 people in his comparsa.

Stelvyn’s home city of Santiago Los Caballeros is known for its style of masks, which are called lechones (meaning pig). They are considered tradicional costumes and are relatively simple; the masks represent pigs or ducks.  Suits from the city of La Vega are larger and more elaborate and are referred to as fantasía. The lechones play the role of vejigantes, those who protect the people in the carnival, who, at one time, were members of the royalty. Vejigantes carry and swing inflated cow bladders to keep the crowd away from the parading comparsas.  Here in the United States, the cow bladders have been replaced by colorful balloons.

It was Stelvyn’s uncle who taught him and his cousins the carnival traditions of mask making and parading. At age 42, carnival has become a family affair for Stelvyn, “In fact, my mother and my sister, they all dress up. . . My father, a tailor, he used to make the suits.”  Below is a photo of Stelvyn’s son Leonardo dressed in a fancy suit and wearing a lechone mask. Leonardo has also become an expert at cracking the whip.

 

The masks are made from a mold of clay and covered with a paste like papier-mâché. The masks are shined, painted, and decorated. Although Stelvyn knows how to make the molds and papier-mâché masks, he prefers to import them from the Dominican Republic. The more elaborate diablos cojuelos costumes are professionally made using real teeth, horns, and skins, mainly of cows. The Asociación has more diablos cojuelos than lechones because to be a lechone, one has to know how to crack the whip and dance.

One finds Spanish, African and Catholic influences in the tradition. Stelvyn points out a distinguishing feature of the Lechones,  “The way we dance is an African dance. So it’s passed generation to generation. We dance different from the guys from La Vega. They jump,” he says, referring to the Diablos Cojuelos. “. . .  When we move through the crowd, we try to be like the best horse there is, the Paso Fino.”

Carnival in the Dominican Republic has gotten more elaborate, competitive, and commercial. Stelvyn says there is a move to bring back some of its folkloric roots. “The dances and things have been forgotten a little. So some groups are going back to the traditional.”

Today, the Asociación Carnavalesca de Massachusetts is well known throughout New England for their participation in Dominican and Latino cultural festivals and parades as ambassadors of Dominican culture. You will have a chance to see this spectacular entourage by attending this year’s Lowell Folk Festival. The Asociación Carnavalesca de Massachusetts will be leading the parade on by Friday and Saturday evening of the festival.

 

Return of the Lowell Folklife Series

Friday, January 25th, 2013

We’re delighted to announce the 2013 Winter/Spring season of the Lowell Folklife Series. These free public events featuring craft, music, dance, & foodways traditions are presented by Lowell Lowell National Historical Park in partnership with the Massachusetts Cultural Council. See full schedule here.

Noodling: The Art of Chinese Hand-Pulled Noodles with Chef Gene Wu (watch video)
Place: Event Center @ Boott Cotton Mill, 115 John Street, Lowell, MA
Monday January 28, 2013 @ 7:30 p.m.

 

 

 

 

Latin Dance Night with Alexander Faria & el Quinteto: Dance lesson @ 7:00; live music @ 8:00
Counting House @ Boott Cotton Mill, 115 John St., Lowell, MA
Saturday February 23, 2013 @ 7:00 p.m.

 

 

 

Women’s Singing Traditions: Veronica Robles & her Mariachi

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA
Saturday March 23, 2013 @ 7:30 p.m.

 

 

 

Model Making: Ship Models & Pipe Organs with Harold A. Burnham, Erik Ronnberg, Jr., & Greg Bover

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA
Sunday April 21, 2013 @ 3:00 p.m.

 

 

All in the Family: Learning from Master Musicians with Balla and Sekou Kouyate on West African Balafons & Sixto “Tito” Ayala and Estefany Navarro on Puerto Rican Congas

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA 01852
Sunday, May 19, 2013 @ 2:30 p.m.

For more information click here
Questions? Call Maggie at 978-275-1719

Lowell Folk Festival Highlights

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

We had great fun at this year’s Lowell Folk Festival, where artisans demonstrated the folk art of head and foot gear. Who knew there were so many ways to adorn the head and protect the feet?

 

Luidgi Felix and Nicole Scott from the Trinidad and Tobago Social Club brought several Caribbean Carnival headdresses to show. These handmade costumes are worn by dancers in Boston’s annual Caribbean Carnival.

Here Nicole Scott shows off one of their creations. Months of work go into constructing these costumes made of wire, steel, feathers, sequins, and glitter.

Jonas Stundzia brought the tradition of Lithuanian Midsummer celebration to Lowell. Under a huge double-horsehead gate, to the sound of Lithuanian folk songs, he created head garlands out of oak leaves and wild flowers. Visitors joined in, making garlands for themselves. 

Angel Sánchez Ortiz  brought his Puerto Rican vejigante masks used for carnival celebrations.  His striking, fantastical masks of boldly painted papier mâché depict animals, legendary people, and sometimes spirits and monsters that are imbued with cultural meaning.

Qamaria Amatul-Wudud designs and sews fashionable clothing for Islamic women who choose to dress modestly. She brought some of her elegant dresses and showed visitors how to wrap headscarves.

 

Eniko Farkas brought her Hungarian beaded maiden crowns worn by unmarried girls after confirmation. Before marriage, they would ritually replace them with a married woman’s headdress. Eniko also talked with visitors about the traditional Hungarian art of embroidery.

Our own J. Arthur Poitras from Lowell seemed to have brought his entire cobbler’s shop with him. There were pliers, knives, creams, and even a hanging shoe last.

 

The infamous “Hat Ladies” of Gloucester, Amy and Robyn Clayton amazed people with their whimsical hats. Here, Amy hands out pamphlets about the Saint Peter’s Fiesta next to their handmade statue of Saint Peter. 

The “Hat Ladies” make a new hat every year for the Saint Peter’s Fiesta, featuring local sights in miniature. For the Lowell Folk Festival, they even brought a life-size cut out of Saint Peter for visitors to pose with.

Theodore Green entranced visitors as he constructed hand built shoes out of leather. If you looked down, you may have noticed his own glittering gold shoes!

Samuel Brown and his custom made hats were a big hit. It was all he could do to keep the ladies from walking off with his hats on their heads.

Faith Izevbijie demonstrated how to tie gele, Nigerian headwraps.

 

And, last but not least, there were tomatoes, lots of tomatoes. Eleni Zohdi was one of five cooks demonstrating recipes using tomatoes. Here she explains how to make a Greek dish called Kayiana, with Lowell NHP Chief of Cultural Resoruces David Blackburn looking on.

We all had a good time and hope you did too. If you missed it, there’s always next year!

Photos and blog by Lesley Ham

 

Festival Food a Family Tradition

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Music isn’t the only draw of the Lowell Folk Festival. Unique to the festival are the ethnic food booths run by local churches, temples, and non-profit organizations. Festival-goers come to sample the variety of international food, handmade by volunteers. These food booths are often family affairs, with young children and teenagers working side by side with their parents.

During the festival, ethnic food booths line French Street behind Boarding House Park. Near the corner of Kirk and French, the Filipino food booth is always one of the most popular, with infamously long lines every weekend. Profits benefit Iskwelahang Pilipino, a cultural and language school in Bedford, and many families who attend the school volunteer to help cook and run the booth. Small children play in the alley behind the tents, young girls serve fried rice and noodles, men barbeque beef, and women roll turon (banana fritters).

Although he’s only 18, Joseph Umali has been volunteering for ten years. “I used to be one of the kids hanging out back,” he said. He started out by serving food, and now is in charge of the cash register and running beef from the truck to the grill. Last year he was one of three young volunteers awarded scholarships from the Lowell Festival Foundation for their service at the various food booths. Working at the festival is something he looks forward to every year, calling it “such a blast.” People from different food booths help each other. “It’s all one big community,” he said.

Both his parents are originally from the Manila area and his family is actively involved in the school and the festival. According to their website, one of goals of Iskwelahang Pilipino is to “develop in Filipino-American children a strong positive ethnic identity and instill pride in the students’ cultural heritage.” Joseph hopes to visit the Philippines either as an exchange student or after graduating from college.

Several booths down from the Filipino booth, facing Boarding House Park, the Parekh family is busy serving Jamaican beef patties, Indian vegetable curry and samosas. Edith Parekh first ran a food booth for the 1986 Regatta Festival to benefit the Celebration of Life non-profit organization, now called Seed. Along with her husband Nalin, and later her four children, Anissa, Natasha, Noah, and Naomi, she has participated in every Lowell Festival. Former Lowell State Senator Dan Leahy, whom Edith calls the “spirit of the organization,”  founded Celebration of Life to help benefit the Mustard Seed orphanages in Jamaica after he saw the plight of poor children in Kingston. There he met Father Gregory Ramkissoon, a priest from India, who founded the orphanages 1978. Naomi spent one year in Jamaica as a Fulbright scholar working with Father Gregory helping orphans stigmatized by HIV. This year’s profits from the Seed booth will go to help both Lowell charities as well as Jamaican orphanages. Any leftovers will be donated to a homeless shelter.

Edith’s mother immigrated from Jamaica to Canada as a young girl. Nalim came to the U.S. from India for university. Together they prepare both Jamaican and Indian food for the festival.  Before the festival, they chopped 15 pounds of red peppers and175 pounds of boneless chicken and cooked a couple of 100 pound bags of rice. The Jamaican beef patties, wrapped in pastry, sell out every year. This year Naomi added her own recipe for rum cupcakes.

For Edith “the real essence of the festival is the last few hours of the festival when vendors all start eating each other’s food.” The Filipinos eat watermelon from the Seed stand, Naomi eats beef on a stick from the Filipino right in front of her mother’s food booth. “Ethnic camaraderie what it’s all about” said Edith.

Next to them, Emma Phachansiry serves fried noodles at the booth benefiting Wat Lao temple in Lowell while Suvana Phomma makes spicy papaya salad with fish sauce, chili pepper, shrimp paste, lime, and tomatoes. Nearby in Boarding House Park, Nana and Dan Dunn from Gloucester enjoy plates of Filipino beef barbeque, fried rice, and spring rolls while waiting for the music to start. They have come to almost every festival since 1988 and come as much for the food as for the music and art. “It’s wonderful to see real people making food,” said Nana, noting that the festival is a major fundraiser for the ethnic groups. She said the food is “prepared with love,” and represents the diversity of cultures. Nana said at the festival you can find out about cultures you don’t know about and “food adds a dimension to that experience.”

Photos and blog by Lesley Ham

Polish rosettes for a crowd

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Early on the morning of July 25, just days before this year’s Lowell Folk Festival, members and friends of the Lowell Polish Cultural Committee were at the Dom Polski  hall on Lakeview Avenue busy preparing rosettes, deep fried cookies in the shape of flowers. At five cooking stations, volunteers stood over electric fry pans, dipping hot irons covered in sweet batter into hot, 420 degree, oil. The Polish group plans to make 700 cookies before the weekend.

This is the fourth year Marcia (Kosik) McGrail has helped. She’s the official batter maker, joking that when she first started frying, “maybe I wasn’t doing it right, and I don’t mind doing batter, next thing I know, I was put on batter.” The rosettes are made from eggs, milk, flour, sugar, and salt, with a touch of rum. Marcia said that when her grandmother made them, she used brandy instead of rum. 

Frank Makarewicz, a relative newcomer, got advice from the “master rosette maker,” Eva Kalish. His crumpled soggy rosettes were soon replaced by perfectly formed crispy brown cookies. “I need a rhythm,” he commented. He will be in charge of making kielbasa sandwiches at this weekend’s festival.

 

Rosettes only take a few seconds of frying on each side before they’re done. When the iron covered in batter is first dipped into the hot oil, the cookies explode into flowers. 

 The volunteers used two shapes of irons for a variety of rosettes.

Jane (Markiewicz) Duffley has cooked for a festival every year but one since 1974, first for the Regatta Festival, then the Lowell Folk Festival. She even worked two weeks before her wedding. Both her sisters are helping with the festival this year. I’m “older than Moses” doing this, she said, as she scurried around, picking up the fresh, crispy cookies from each station and carefully lining them row by row into large boxes.

 

The Polish group expected to sell out of rosettes as usual this year. The money raised from the festival will help fund Dom Polski scholarships and other worthy causes.

photos and blog by Lesley Ham

 


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